Christopher Gunning Symphony 5 and String Quartet 1 an interesting pairing

Signum Classics continues their survey of Christopher Gunning’s music with a mix. This release features an orchestral and a chamber work. But there is a connection. Both works show Gunning’s growth as a composer. And they show his willingness to challenge himself.

Gunning composed his fifth symphony as his sister’s health declined. She was to die before he completed the work. According to Gunning, the symphony represents “one’s journey from birth to death.” The symphony is dedicated to the memory of his sister. Hers seems to be the life journey Gunning was portraying.

And that’s what makes this recording is so compelling for me. Gunning is conducting a first-rate orchestra, and he knows exactly what he wants. And the Royal Philharmonic responds to his direction.

This is an intricately constructed symphony. It works when everything aligns properly. And when everything hits with just the right intensity and articulation. And in Gunning’s hands, it does.

The journey is more intellectual than emotional, but it’s a satisfying one, nevertheless.

The String Quartet No. 1 showcases Gunning’s ability to fully exploit the potential of his material. In this case, it’s three notes — C, D, and G. The twenty-four-minute work grows out of those three pitches. Gunning explores the relationship between these notes and their implied harmonies.

It’s a modern-sounding string quartet, but not a modernist one. The Juno Quartet delivers a fine performance. Their playing brings out the music’s emotional rather than intellectual content. And that’s how it should be.

Christopher Gunning
Symphony No. 5- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Christopher Gunning, conductor
String Quartet No. 1 – Juno String Quartet
Signum Classics

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